Pink Blood and Pale Thunder
THERE is something of the strip cartoon in George Du Maurier's Trilby (BEDFORD) that is most unreal of Victorian melodramas; it has extension without depth.
Maria Marten, Lady Audley's Secret, East Lynne, while hardly accurate as commentaries on the English character, have some resemblance to.reality. We have met girls who inspired the thought that their burial beneath a barn floor might be the lesser of two evils; we have known high-and-low-minded aristocrats. Dropping an unwanted husband in the well, while not the sort of conduct we encourage in our young women, is less outlandish as a way of divorce than some devised by women in real life. The histories of crime in Germany and the American Middle West suggest that many ladies have latent admirable inventiveness in this respect that, while morally inadvisable, is technically unsurpassable. Nothing in the old melodramas was stranger than truth. Even Sweeny Todd. our Fleet Street hairdresser, was not the only merchant in the pie trade to take steps that would be frowned upon by even the Minister of Food. The melodramas were no more untrue to life than Conrad was untrue to the sea when he wrote The Nigger of the Narcissus. He took the ocean on the crests of its most angry waves; the melodrama contrived passion at its most intense. They were. and are. a relief from the banalities of respectability; we are all scoundrels in some part of our nature; we need safety valves lest the rogues in us flourish to our eternal damnation.
Garrets and artists Trilby is not true English melodrama ; it is full of foreign bodies. Here the legendary La Vie Bohente of Murger diluted the good old native blood-and-thunder; the blood was pinkened. the thunder rendered pianissimo. Du Mauricr avoided the worst excesses of the Murger school with dignified drabs by making them perish, romantically, after sacrificing themselves for the sort of tragic ass who dies in a garret-or in real life on any floor from the basement upwards-because he is a bad artist and will not go to work as a bus conductor or grocer's assistant. The author, being an artist himself, knew that stupidity not integrity was what ailed the art for art's sake boys. He was not. however a good novelist. and the play makes dreary fustian', crossbred from melodrama and M urger.
Clowns and doughnuts
The Bedford production suffers from the intelligence of most of the actors, who cannot conceive a unity of belief in the play. Mr. Abraham Sofaer's Svengali is a delightfully fantastic figure; his make-up, close to the pictures, suggests Rasputin unfrocked and unwashed, but would not scare a nervous two-year-old. Miss Patricia Burke's Trilby, on the other hand, is as boisterous as the head girl of St. Agatha's-one wondered if she should have played it in a gym. frock ; the invisible hockey stick was ornn;present ; the cry Play-up School! if unheard, was in the air. The one real character in the piece, Gecko, as portrayed by Mr. Larry Burns, was the gem of the pro duction. Gecko is the universal worm who turns. Mr. Burns gave him a flavour that suggested Chaplin; a gentle, clownish pathos; his silences created poignant tension and his crouching walk illuminated the whole history of the character. This is a good actor.
It should he added that Bedford audiences dissolved each evening in frenzies at the final curtains. La Vie Boheme may bear little relationship to coffee and doughnuts at Mario's for the boys and girls of St. Martin's, hut it still pulls a wicked trick in what Miss Patricia Burke, with enchanting naivete, calls, at curtain call, " the people's theatre."
A younger ghost in grease-paint, this being a week of revivals, The Green Bay Tree (Plooniouse), by Mordaunt Shairp, depends for its interest on the audience's reaction to a study on perversion. The treatment is not objectionable; the play is well
carpentered. The acting, of Miss Brenda Bruce, Mr. Walter Fitzgerald, and Mr. Jack Watling especially, is admirable, That it fell flatly on me is perhaps not a sound criticism. I find perverts at their least offensive boring-as here; at their worst sickening.